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Dressage Technique: the circle, why and how?

Dressage Technique: the circle, why and how?

How to successfully ride a circle and why use it regularly?

While the twenty-meter circle appears in competitions for four-year-olds, the ten-meter voltes are only introduced in competitions for five-year-olds, narrowing down to eight meters in the seventh year. With a young horse, opt for larger circles the width of the arena, allowing you to control speed and amplitude while developing flexibility, which is the ability to bend laterally. Imagine the curve of a parenthesis.


Your horse flexes from its poll to its tail, curving around your inside leg.


This larger circle introduces your young horse to engaging its hindquarters while maintaining reasonable amplitude. By asking for more impulsion on the straight line, the horse tends to trot or canter with longer strides, developing its strides. The tighter curve of the circle and then the volte will naturally, without excessive constraint from the rider, keep the horse in a more collected, compact gait. This is an effective way to increase the activity of the hindquarters while limiting the increase in speed and stride length.


The importance of the volte lies not only in its technical and muscular benefits but also in the harmonization of the rider/horse partnership. Can you draw a perfect circle? This illustrates that your horse is attentive and responsive to your aids. You lead, and your horse follows your steps. On the contrary, if you don't control the roundness of the circle perfectly, it indicates that you're not guiding your horse effectively, and it becomes the leader. It starts by deciding the trajectory and may alter the speed at its will, eventually taking full control of the situation, deviating from the predetermined path. The risk is gradually becoming overwhelmed by a distracted and inattentive horse. Allowing the horse to make decisions in your place can eventually lead to serious disorder.


The volte tests the horse's bend and balance.


Not only should it flex at the poll and the jaw, but it must also arch its entire body around the rider's inside leg. Only then can it execute a quality volte. Straightness is one of the foundational principles of dressage, which is named after the idea of straightening or aligning. A straight horse has aligned shoulders and hips against the track and curves around the circle while maintaining the bend. In fact, the outside hind leg then follows the same trajectory as the corresponding front leg. If the horse lacks balance, meaning it doesn't evenly shift its weight onto both hindquarters, it will tend to fall inward on the circle. This can significantly impact gait correction, regularity, and cadence. To maintain the same rhythm on both straight lines and tight volte curves, the horse must carry itself. Only through collection will it approach this exercise with the required energy and relaxation for maintaining a correct gait.


The challenge is to keep the activity of the hindquarters under the mass, without allowing the hips to slip.


On the volte, the rider must subtly use their corridor of aids and be aware of the effect of each action on the horse's bend. The inside leg placed at the girth improves the bend and the activity of the hindquarters, which engage under the mass. It also opens up the curve to create a perfectly geometric circle. It should be applied with a downward push to prevent shifting weight onto the outside seat bone, which would push the horse's hips off the circle. Imagine your horse arcing around your inside leg, the flexion of the jaw created by the contact of the inside rein, and the guidance of the haunches provided by the outside aids. The goal is to see the corner of your horse's eye and nostril on the inside. The contact on the outside rein, stable and consistent, maintains the horse's balance while controlling its trajectory. It helps place the shoulders ahead on the curve while avoiding excessive flexion. Imagine it acts like a canalizing boot that guides the horse's path. Keep your thumbs on top, your wrists flexed in the direction of the turn, and each hand both close to each other and on its side of the neck. The outside leg can be slightly behind to prevent the outside hind leg from slipping outward. It also assists in the turn. Instead of spreading your hand to encourage the turn, complement closed fingers and turned wrists with a discreet leg aid.


The rider must ensure they are seated squarely in the saddle, with their gaze between the horse's ears and their torso turned in the direction of movement, parallel to their horse's shoulders. The independence of aids is essential to avoid any rider tension. The muscle of the core is crucial to subtly intervene with hands and legs without clinging. Each stride of the volte should be evaluated separately and corrected instantly as needed. Be cautious, the balance of your inside and outside aids should prevent collapse and tilting of the neck. Ensure both ears are always horizontally aligned on the same plane. Maintain a presentation posture if you wish, with the highest point of the neck. You should be able to see the browband.


Visualize the path of the volte by drawing it on paper.


Reproducing the path on foot in the dressage arena can be useful. It's essential to know the exact dimensions of the arena, which are twenty meters wide and sixty meters long in competition. Also, remember that the letters are twelve meters apart from each other, except for the corners, which are separated from the letter on the long side H, M, F, and K by only six meters. Since the centerline cuts the arena in half, a ten-meter volte will touch the median AC. It's worth noting that sometimes a ten-meter volte may be correctly touching the centerline without fully reaching ten meters in length, which is a more abstract distance. The second half of the volte often tends to flatten into an oval. The radius of the circle should be consistently five meters.



Be aware, a twenty-meter circle at A doesn't pass through the letter L, which cuts the centerline between P and V. As six meters separate the corner of F and twelve meters separate F from P, only eighteen meters distance A from L. A correctly executed twenty-meter circle should therefore intersect the centerline two meters after L to be perfectly symmetrical. A useful way to visualize your twenty-meter circle is to associate it with one-third of the total area of the dressage arena, which measures sixty meters in length. Similarly, the curve should be consistent throughout the circle, and the corners must be precisely cut. Remember that you should never walk straight on a circle. Imagining markers at each point of the circle can help you maintain a perfect round shape.